I hadn’t realized until recently that Stephen Harper was using "God Bless Canada!" as a tagline for his speeches. Some may think this a harmless, or even beneficent, expression for a politician to use, but for those with knowledge of history, nothing could be a more frightening.
I do believe we all know to whom Harper is tipping his hat with these words. George Bush, author of two wars which have killed more than a hundred thousand innocent people and the champion of an ugly set of repressive laws in the United States, says "God Bless America!" every chance he gets.
Some might say Bush uses the line because he has nothing else to say, and I don’t doubt this is part of the truth. But slogans of this kind are always used to protect dangerous people from criticism. The words are used also as code, a kind of insidious political wink, to bloodthirsty supporters, the Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell types. They says things that cannot be uttered in public.
Bush usually says it in front of a set of gigantic, eagle-topped American flags, reminiscent of nothing so much as the days when Germany’s leader spoke and sputtered in front of platoons of monstrous, threatening flags.
Bush also always wears a prominently-placed American flag pin on his lapel, just in case you forget where he’s from. I can never help thinking of the image of Hitler wearing his quiet Iron Cross on an otherwise plain, neatly-tailored uniform. Neatness and patriotism for the cameras instead of troops sloshing through human blood.
The belt buckle of the German legions which murdered their way across Europe were embossed with "Gott Mit Uns" (God With Us) over a fierce eagle grasping the swastika. This is only to say that there is a record in fairly recent history of the use of religious slogans in politics to cover horrors. I recall a photograph of American Marines, having illegally invaded Iraq, kneeling for a quick blessing before going out to kill more Iraqis in their own land.
Were I to dip further into European history, I would name the countless wars and persecutions in which God Bless Something Or Other! was invoked over the bodies of burning, bleeding, or broken victims.
Religion does not belong in public life, and Stephen Harper’s efforts to drag it in says a great deal about him to those choosing to listen. This principle is as much a defense of freedom of religion as anything else: millions of Christians have been slain by other Christians over subtle differences of belief.
Religion in politics violates Canadians’ traditional political civility. While God may be understood as a translation for Allah or Jehovah, the name is completely unsuitable for those embracing Buddhism or Hinduism or Humanism or no religion at all. This usage opens wounds where none need exist.
Even among today’s Christians, God does not have the same meaning to everyone. To a Pat Robertson, God is someone who destroys communities with hurricanes when they fail to recognize the truth of Pat’s preaching. Pat’s God is also someone who sanctions the assassination of democratically-elected leaders who happen to oppose American policies.
And please, make no mistake, a core portion of Harper’s Alberta-based party are people with just such views.
Not a lot of Canadians understand that a large portion of Alberta Crown land was taken up by Americans looking for farmland at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. There was a heavy in-migration of American attitudes from the province’s beginning. This was reinforced by the development of oil and gas in the 1940s and 1950s, and has been reinforced further still with the recent development of the tarsands.
Look at the Alberta government’s Internet site where Ralph Klein lists himself under the heading Executive Branch, a purely American expression not even applicable to parliamentary government. Look at Klein’s ugly public outbursts which remind one of nothing so much as a Tom Delay or a Newt Gingrich.
Remind yourself of Harper’s record of saying things like Alberta should build a firewall around itself, an American gated community on a grand scale. Look at the city of Calgary whose lighted glass blocks are positively eerie at night in a city which virtually empties to the suburbs at five or six o’clock, American-style. No street life, none of the flavor of Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal. A colony of dangerous Dallas.
Remind yourself that Harper strongly advocated Canada join America’s illegal invasion of Iraq. Most disturbingly, Harper advocated this bloody policy, not on the basis of sharing Bush’s dark beliefs, but on the basis of catering to Bush’s favor over trade. Harper said, again and again, Canada should join an illegitimate war because it was what its major trading partner was doing. Blood for gold. You just can’t take a lower ethical path. I’ll take a ten-year old scandal anytime.
If Stephen Harper heads a minority government, you may be sure he will continue to show the kind of artificial restraint of language he has shown for much of the campaign. Does any critically-thinking Canadian believe this will continue if he succeeds in gaining a majority? He is already criticizing Canada’s courts, a favorite activity of Texas’s poisonous Tom Delay. One of Harper’s senior advisors, Tom Flanagan, is an American ex-patriot bristling with the perspectives and attitudes of the Midwest where he was raised.
The United States is almost certainly the worst example possible in the advanced world of a civil and cohesive society. Canada’s arguing between provinces seems civilized compared to the dangerous pressures in American society where a President can be impeached for a dribble on a dress or where a boy washed ashore can be kept from his loving father and home in the name of freedom. A place today where dissidents face arrest or spying and travel-bans or, at best, are told to get out if they don’t like it. Only the drumbeat of jingoistic patriotism, reinforced with religious slogans, holds a people together who are full of conflict and anger over their country’s activities and policies but feel almost powerless to change anything.
Canadians must think hard when voting. The nation has been prospering without Harper’s policies and it has avoided at least one pointless war. In politics, you have to pick your battles carefully because no one party can represent all the issues about which you care. Peace and civility and dedication to broad human rights are priceless and may well be put at risk with a Harper majority.